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Why can’t the Left take a joke? Trenchant ridicule can be constructive

Catherine Tate is not quite Left-wing enough. Credit: BBC


May 19, 2022   6 mins

Chris Rock was in London last week with his new show, observing — not inaccurately — that many people are very afraid of offending others these days. Presumably some comedians are even more afraid now, having seeing Will Smith slap Rock at the Oscars in March; the sheer visibility of this event is likely to have dragged the assault of comedians further into the realm of possibility than it was before. As Kathy Griffin tweeted at the time: “now we all have to worry about who wants to be the next Will Smith in comedy clubs and theatres.” Last week’s attack on Dave Chappelle on stage was perhaps further evidence that the social norm “don’t hit people for making offensive jokes” is in some disrepair.

But even where the po-faced stop short of lamping the smart-arsed, it’s widely noted that there’s a growing societal intolerance towards offensive comedy. Discussion of this in the media tends to assume a predictable form. First, someone well-known for being funny — Maureen Lipman, or John Cleese, or Dawn French — will say that wokeism is stifling comedic impulses by making comedians (and managers, and booking agents) afraid of backlash. Editors will then scramble to find someone authoritative to say there’s no evidence of this.

If anything, though, the resulting defensive responses tend only to increase the sense that there’s a problem here. Take, for instance, comedian Russell Kane’s response to Maureen Lipman: “I don’t think anyone is saying you can’t be offended, nobody is saying that, what we’re saying is you can’t use hate speech that would prompt a gender-related crime, a sex-related crime or a race-related crime.” Phew — that’s a relief! What this answer obviously ignores is that in the feverish imaginations of many, the bar for what’s considered likely to prompt a crime is getting lower every day.

Or take this Guardian op-ed from last year by comedy commentator Rachel Aroesti. With perhaps telling overkill, Aroesti writes off each and every concern about comedy cancel culture as “scaremongering about progressive politics”, “nonsense”, and (of course) “an absurdist joke”. In prosecuting her argument, she points out, accurately, that the careers of some high-profile comedians — Jimmy Carr, say, or Chappelle again — have been boosted from scandals surrounding their routines. Differently rendered, the very same evidence might have been used to provide comfort and reassurance to would-be shock merchants, along the lines of: Dear comedians, there’s no evidence your career will suffer if you are disgustingly obnoxious on stage. So relax, get back out there, and start making no-holds-barred jokes about transmen and Roma people once more!

Probably unsurprisingly, though, that’s not how the piece reads. Even as Aroesti insists that cancel culture doesn’t affect people’s ability to make jokes that refer to minorities, her evident disapproval for the sort of person that would do this undermines her point. An accompanying eyeroll seems to say: no, of course you haven’t been cancelled, idiots — but you probably should be. This eyeroll can be sensed, too, in an exceptionally moralistic review of Catherine Tate’s body of work, written by Aroesti last month, which stops just short of calling Tate’s material “racist and homophobic” — but only just.

The real reason that the careers of comics like Carr, Rock, and Chappelle continue to flourish in spite of, or even because of, their deliberate minority-baiting, is that, in going as far as they gleefully do, they signal that there is little real point in coming after them. Unlike cancellers on the Right, who are mostly interested in targeting the opposition, cancellers on the Left tend to go for those they think are likely to be psychologically susceptible to their criticism.

For the purposes of speech control, a good target is someone who is likely to care about being called a “misogynist”, “racist” or “transphobe” by fellow tribe-members. And it’s even better if the transgression in question has the air of an inadvertent slip-up — because in that case you’re more likely to be able to extract an abject apology from the perpetrator, simply by pointing out that offence has been caused. Comedians who stoke outrage in front of millions don’t exactly scream potential in this respect. There’s nothing that says resilience to progressive guilt trips like deliberately savage jokes on stage about vulnerable groups.

What this suggests is that the comedians most at risk of the effects of cancellation are not the big names building their brands by pushing the limits of taste and decency. Rather, it’s the more strait-laced and less confrontational ones, sticking mainly to whimsical observation but with occasional tentative forays into edginess, who are most in danger — those from whom routines that inadvertently hit a cultural nerve would stand out far more vividly.

It’s a strange world where Catherine Tate is more likely to be criticised for the supposed immorality of her comic choices than, say, Jerry Sadowitz — described with admiration by the Guardian in 2017 as the “twisted granddaddy of abusive comedy”. But I think it’s probably the world we live in. (To be clear — as far as I’m concerned, the answer here is not to level things out by going after Sadowitz, too.)

In effect, the progressive Left has moralised huge swathes of communication, both within comedy and beyond it. Any utterance that involves a reference to a minority tends to be sliced from its surrounding context. The intentions or character of its owner are ignored. The implication is reduced to the version that the most sensitive representative of that particular minority might choose to hear, and then connected in full, psychic technicolour with hideous potential repercussions for that often completely imaginary person.

You can see this in Kane’s response to Maureen Lipman, and you can also see it in Aroesti’s review of Catherine Tate, in which the supposedly “racist and homophobic” material she mentions turns out to have come from the mouth of Tate’s Nan character — surely an important difference. Perversely, the best way for a comedian to circumvent these censorious effects seems to be to boldly march up to statements that might genuinely stoke up bad feeling against a group and then spit them out in your own voice, smirking knowingly as you do it.

Like many other parts of culture then, comedy is polarised. If you’re a comedian, you now have one of two choices: either avoid controversy like the plague or run happily towards it. There’s not much in between, and comedy has lost some of its richness because of it.

But there is another loss here too, and it’s a loss to the political culture of the Left. For as the progressive wing has embraced the ever-evolving permutations of identity politics so enthusiastically, it has also — and probably non-coincidentally — made it impossible for anyone on its own side to laugh at these permutations, or at identity politics generally. In the reductive algebra of progressive offence-seekers, mocking identity politics is equated with mocking minorities. Of course, all politics is tribal, and no political party or movement, Right or Left, can easily tolerate mockery, especially from within its own ranks. But this is not just an understandable dislike of being laughed at by those on the same side as oneself. It is a positive taboo against it, with all the enforcing of speech codes, wilfully reductive misunderstandings, and attempted humiliation of miscreants that this implies.

And yet there is so much to laugh at! Last week alone gave us the Head of Trans Inclusion at Stonewall, on a hefty salary to oversee Stonewall’s many trans-related programmes, asking to be accompanied by a support worker, his mother, and a support dog during cross-questioning at Allison Bailey’s employment tribunal. (The judge instructed him not to discuss the case with his mother during a break; whether he was allowed to discuss it with the dog wasn’t mentioned).

We also were treated to the spectacle of 61 mainly Labour MPs, holding placards at the behest of nameless LGBTQ+ campaigners, and passing on the bonkers message to the general public that confused adolescents shouldn’t be given any therapy in their hasty rush to get rid of various body parts. Brass Eye’s Chris Morris — famous for getting celebrities to unwittingly humiliate themselves on camera in the name of various confected moral panics — couldn’t have done any better if he’d tried.

Lots of people on the Left want to mock events like these — they are, after all, preposterous. But they also know that the pinched-mouthed censors on their own side would reduce any attempts at humour to, at best, unkindness, and, at worst, hatred towards trans people. The same goes with relevant adjustments for any mockery of BLM, or indeed of any activist movement claiming to speak on behalf of a minority. And this needlessly forces those uncomfortable with the simplistic logic of identity politics to pick a side.

Those with enough rebellious spirit will eventually seek to break free from their suffocatingly humourless companions, making the Left less diverse and less robust. Worse than that, freed from exposure to that particularly bracing form of critique that is trenchant piss-taking from people whose opinions you care about, the Left’s representatives are likely to carry on doing ridiculous things in public, to the befuddlement of the voter. Until progressives are better able to take a joke — or even to understand one — I predict that Labour will give us lots more to laugh at in the next few years. And the amusement will all be that of the Tories.


Kathleen Stock is an UnHerd columnist and a co-director of The Lesbian Project.
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Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
2 years ago

Satire doesn’t need to be savage – but it needs to be fearless and it should be willing to poke fun at ALL sides of an issue. The biggest problem with the current state of British satire is that it has taken a single, congruant position.
Pick any topical satire/comedy show – be it HIGNFY, Mock the Week, The Now Show, Last Leg, any mainstream terrestrial channel comedy panel show, and try and find any that goes against the ‘liberal’ orthodoxy.
One or two individual comedians dare to kick against the traces – but only in stand-up and only once they’ve made an unassailable name for themselves, because they know it comes at the cost of a lucrative TV career. You can only build a successful stand-up career at the moment by establishing your name on such comedy panel programmes.
If any booker actually had the cojones to book a comedian who came out with a whole anti-EU schtick, or possibly mocked Biden, any aspect of identity politics or the current accommodations towards “woke” culture wars – they would guarantee firstly that that the comedian never got booked again for that show and secondly that the booker would be hauled in front of the commissioning editor the next morning for an interview without coffee.
Neither the booker, nor the guest – if they value their careers – dares to step outside the liberal consensus. To do so would be to get a flavour of what it would be like to be accused of heresy.
The strangest strange thing is that we all still refer to this woke orthodoxy as the “liberal consensus”. It is, surely, the very antithesis of “liberal” thought. What could possibly be more authoritarian than promoting a narrow worldview and punishing and shaming anyone who dares to think outside it? One of the favourite insults when castigating the right is “Orwellian”, do they honestly not see that the tag could be far better applied to this insistence we all adhere to the orthodoxy or face the consequences?
Geoff Norcott is always wheeled out as the comedian that disproves that all BBC comedy is leftist – but GN, as funny as he is, is essentially playing a character. The audience is invited to laugh at (not with) his observations because he is depicted as an unreconstructed Faragiste, a cartoon Brexit untermensch, a figure of fun because his opinions are SO outrageous (despite them actually being the majority view the last time we asked).
Even a man like Ian Hislop, who made a career out of having a dig at the establishment, has become – since the referendum – the sneering face of on-air remoanerism. Once a satirist has picked sides and only attacks the ‘Other’ he ceases to be in any way relevant. It has made HIGNFY unwatchable and Private Eye unreadable.
The satirists of the 1960s, 70s and 80s would hang their heads at the neo-puritanism, the homogeneity of today’s crop of comics. Actually none of those people would even get the gig nowadays. The head of BBC comedy commissioning proudly stated that the Python crew would never be hired today, because who wants more Oxbridge educated white men? Right on! Who cares if they’re funny, just don’t let them be well educated and white!
The current panel show regulars who infest our screens may tick all the right boxes, might fulfil all the right quotas, might make fun of all the approved targets and avoid making fun of all the ‘protected victim groups’, but some of these ‘comedians’ (to stretch the definition almost to breaking point) fail in one rather important area – THEY ARE NOT FUNNY. (Has anyone, honestly, ever actually belly-laughed at anything Nish Kumar or Holly Walsh have ever said? Or a hatful of – evidently forgettable – others)
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty out there in the ether, plenty even on mainstream TV who are talented, plenty who are funny, but for all their supposed “edginess” there isn’t one who’d dare admit to an unapproved political viewpoint.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Contrast the total destruction of one Danny Baker for his remark about a Royal birth with the almost religious eulogisation of “battery acid throwing” Ms Jo Brand.

Tim C
Tim C
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Fantastic post Paddy. Please look up the term ‘clapter’ to see what this form of ‘comedy’ really is.
https://www.comediansontheloose.com/post/2019/06/11/-clapter-doesn-t-mean-you-re-succeeding

“it’s when a comedian makes a “joke (often a social or political statement) with the purpose to make the audience applaud and agree instead of laugh.

Some common statements you’ll hear may be “so Trump sucks,” “men are terrible,” etc. It can often depend on the type of room you’re working.’

So that’s most comedians nowadays and the entire content of Nish Kumar’s shows.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Ian Hislop became an embarrassment to satire over a decade ago. It’s Paul Merton I feel sorry for – he’s clearly taken the shilling to be imprisoned in a comedy cage with HIGNFY and sacrificed any comic integrity he once had.

What a waste of a potential genius. He just sits there, nodding along to the cliched jokes, year after year.

Andrew Lale
Andrew Lale
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

I haven’t watched HIGNFY in this millennium.

Gill Holway
Gill Holway
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Lale

And I dont intend to start now!

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago

How on earth did Kathleen Stock manage to rise to a Professorship in Sussex University where just printing the self described subject matter of the specialisms of some of the lectures was to provide comedic material at the level of barmy wokism? She must often have had to bite her tongue at get togethers with colleague. What a benefit we now enjoy that she is off the leash and writing here.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jeremy Bray
Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

A cynic would say she’s a recent convert.

harry storm
harry storm
2 years ago

Who cares? She’s great.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

You just wonder how many other academics share her views but are too afraid of losing their jobs to say anything. Such continual self-censoring is self and soul destroying; the luckiest break that Kathleen Stock had was to be forced out of Sussex University. allowing her to regain her self-respect. Her sub-stack is really good, by the way; it is thoughtful and consists of deep analyses of questions, I thoughly recomment it.

Last edited 2 years ago by Linda Hutchinson
ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago

Sussex has been a national disgrace ever since its foundation in the early 60’s. In a futile attempt to distance itself from the shadow of Oxbridge, it eulogised that contradiction in terms; Social Science. One can hardly imagine such a vacuous subject.
Ms Stock is to be applauded for surviving so long in such a toxic environment, and for retaining her sense of humour. Perhaps she should seek a Parliamentary seat. as there is such a obvious dearth of talent there at present?

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

You say that but she was happy to join the N*zi party in the first place.
It was never any secret what the were all about
Like so many of her ilk Ms Stock was seemingly happy to go along with them and their agenda until the recent parting of the ways. Apart from the one issue over which they fell out I assume she and her former comrades are sing off the same hymn sheet about much everything else. Albert Speer she is not.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago

John.8:7

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

I do not think that Defence worked at Nuremburg

Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
2 years ago

I’m calling the Godwin here at about 8 hours. Impressive.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago

Yes, her Substack is excellent

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
2 years ago

And she can write. Her columns are very witty as well.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

She was on Andrew Sullivan’s podcast and was first class

Tim C
Tim C
2 years ago

There’s a simple reason why the Left don’t like a joke.
That is because quick witted comedy is extremely effective at ridiculing beliefs and inconsistencies in political thought. This is why the Left love Left wing comedy but tries to stifle right wing comedy.

Comedians are much more effective at mocking political opponents than a stuffy political as they connect on more down to earth level with down to earth concerns.

And the Left is supporting a lot of ridiculous positions at the moment so critical comedy must be stopped.

I remember seeing footage of Islamic militants protesting in Australia and they were surrounded by a crowd who drowned them out by singing ‘Always Look on the Bright side of Life. ‘

It made the protestors look even worse. That’s the power of comedy and why it must be controlled.

MJ Reid
MJ Reid
2 years ago
Reply to  Tim C

Who are “the Left” that you refer to? I am and always have been a socialist – on the left. I am also a feminist. Neither are “bad” words or bad things to be.
I have a very well developed and probably very dark sense of humour considering the jobs I have had. Laughter takes the very real pain away… in jobs where there is little light relief and when you have a disability. There should be more laughter about life including the difficult topics and the really dark issues!

Tim C
Tim C
2 years ago
Reply to  MJ Reid

I agree with you regarding humour however I would posit the theory that your view on comedy combined with your political leanings and makes you a statistical outlier.
After all, if everyone on the Left felt the same way then where is the problem?

Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
2 years ago
Reply to  Tim C

Woke isn’t old school leftism. Often it’s hostile to it. If it were socialist corporations wouldn’t be so enthusiastic.

James Kirk
James Kirk
2 years ago
Reply to  MJ Reid

Fair comment but there are many, centre and right, who would not go and see Roy ‘Chubby Brown, Jim Davison, Andrew Lawrence & co. Do you agree with Sheffield Council for ‘cancelling’ them?
I have no time for socialism but love watching Stewart Lee acts.He hangs around with the likes of the odious hypocrites Owen Jones and James O’Brian and writes for the Guardian. On ‘Rightist’ terms grounds for cancelling.

Tim C
Tim C
2 years ago
Reply to  James Kirk

I used to enjoy Stewart Lee as well but have turned against the sneering sort of comedy that he encapsulates all too well.
Here’s a test for modern comedians:
1) Have an act that doesn’t rely on mocking other people.
2) Have an act that doesn’t rely on ‘clapter.’ E.g. Trump is an idiot! Audience goes ‘yeah’ and applauds. Most comedians rely on these two crutches. How about humour that isn’t mean and is just funny?

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
2 years ago
Reply to  Tim C

I agree with 2 but not 1. We should always be utterly merciless in our mockery of woke scum.

Lord Rochester
Lord Rochester
2 years ago
Reply to  James Kirk

Yes, Stewart Lee is a tricky one theses days. I was rewatching his comedy vehicle the other week which is still great, but then – by comparison – I found it difficult to find his contemporary articles in the guardian as not meandering, preachy, lacking his previous self-deprecatory style enough to not be clichéd in how they pandered to the newspaper’s readership, and, sadly, not really that funny in print.

He’s touring soon and the description of his show – even the imagery – makes me not so fussy to see it as I feel it might very well end up feeling like a lecture that’s been sensitivity-read by Owen Jones.

Andrew Lale
Andrew Lale
2 years ago
Reply to  MJ Reid

Given that self-declared socialists murdered a hundred million people in the 20th century, calling yourself a socialist should have the same stigma as calling yourself a Nazi. Perhaps more.

M. Jamieson
M. Jamieson
2 years ago
Reply to  Tim C

There’s been something of a reversal from what I have seen over the years. As a young person, many comedians from the left were able to see humour within their own political tribe, and didn’t hold back. Many of the great comedians in the 60s to the 80s, some mentioned in the above article, were of the left.
The right on the other hand, as a general rule, tended to have rather insipid toothless comedy, and sometimes you would see articles asking “Why can’t thr right do comedy?” the exact mirror image of Stock’s article. The general feeling was that they took themselves too seriously.
I’ve wondered what this suggests about how people find humour, because to a large degree I think it is the same people or at least the same kinds of people.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago

Marvellous! Where has Kathleen Stock been all my life?

Last edited 2 years ago by Martin Bollis
Tony Lee
Tony Lee
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Ha ha ha! She used to have a ‘proper’ job before qualifying perfectly for this new role, by being cancelled out of employment. Every cloud etc

Michael Askew
Michael Askew
2 years ago

I was astonished and disappointed by Russell Kane’s statement “I don’t think anyone is saying you can’t be offended, nobody is saying that, what we’re saying is you can’t use hate speech that would prompt a gender-related crime, a sex-related crime or a race-related crime.”  This is as disingenuous as it is factually incorrect. Yes, the wokerati ARE saying you can’t offend minorities, and no, the crimes listed are never instigated by what happens in a comedy club. You know this Mr Kane, and it is dishonest to pretend otherwise.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

The point is well made that the only comedians pushing the envelope are the ones that are not afraid of being cancelled. Whilst I can appreciate that it is scary out there, I just don’t see an alternative to following this example. If you are afraid to ride the storm, it is time to leave comedy.
Back I go to my Seinfeld reruns.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
2 years ago

Try Cheers. Much better.

It’s also set in a pub. Nuff said?

Terry M
Terry M
2 years ago

“Of course, all politics is tribal, and no political party or movement, Right or Left, can easily tolerate mockery, especially from within its own ranks.”

Apparently Ms Stock has never read or heard the Babylon Bee, the funniest place in the world at present.

Tim C
Tim C
2 years ago
Reply to  Terry M

And they tried to cancel that too!

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago

A weird situation where only the famous and rich or otherwise untouchable can speak up.
Then they’re held up as proof that there’s no such thing as cancel culture cos look, they’re doing OK.

William McClure
William McClure
2 years ago

I would love to travel back in time when insults were more acidic. Churchill once said: He has all the virtues I dislike, and none of the vices I admire.

Ah, the good old days…

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
2 years ago

Ah but Churchill was well woke. When informed that a senior civil servant had be caught with a guardsman in Hyde Park on the coldest night of the year, he said “makes you proud to be British”

Slopmop McTeash
Slopmop McTeash
2 years ago

A joke is normally a truth cloaked in comedy. Since the left hate the truth, the left also hate comedy.

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago

I think that claiming the progressive Left to be a cult would be overegging the case (although perhaps not their aspirations).
One of the characteristics of totalism though is the Thought-Terminating Cliche (see Wikipedia). Perhaps in today’s limited length social media the thought terminating cliches have been reduced to thought terminating single words? Like “misogynist”, “racist” or “transphobe”?

Ben Dhonau
Ben Dhonau
2 years ago

The main problem that I have with the modern so-called comedians such as Jimmy Carr is that are not producing offensive comedy, but only offensive remarks which are not funny. The is a long tradition exemplified by Benny Hill, Les Dawson of being offensively funny. It is a pity that most of the current crop are such poor practitioners of the art.

Tim C
Tim C
2 years ago
Reply to  Ben Dhonau

I do find Jimmy Carr funny but hey, opinions and all that. Am no expert but would I be right in saying that Les Dawson is nowhere near as offensive? I’ve been to see Jimmy Carr and his shows are FAR more extreme than his TV humour.

One thing I saw recently (I forget where) was an interview with a comedian (perhaps Lee Mack?) where they mentioned the difference between Northern and Southern humour. I’d never really picked up on this before but there was a real point. Northern humour was less acerbic and critical and laughed at itself. Southern humour was more cynical, accusatory and mean and pointed the finger and laughed at others in an unpleasant way

I have rebelled against this style of humour over the last few years and now just want to see someone being funny without having to ridicule others to do so.

It turns out that a lot of comedy is more of the Southern based variety!

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
2 years ago
Reply to  Tim C

I want to see Southern white male heterosexual comedians blacking up and making savage jokes about BLM and men in dresses.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 years ago
Reply to  Ben Dhonau

Jimmy Carr is BRILLIANT. That’s all.

James Kirk
James Kirk
2 years ago

The ‘Left’ are a club. A club of bullies who will laugh at a joke by one of their indoctrinated comedians and not at one ‘outside’ their domain telling the same joke. Gaslighting I believe, the mark of psychopaths and, just lately, the buzz word, narcissists who nobody had heard of. To the non aligned, Nish Kumar is just not funny. His relationship with the BBC supports this.
Comedy is a matter of taste like opera vs heavy metal. People seek the front rows to be insulted by Jimmy Carr or the Pub Landlord. #HIGNIFY and Mock the Week have lost droves of supporters through their obvious bias. Anyone who voluntarily goes to see an act that may offend them is a fraud.
The shame is we can only suspect a comedian naturally aspires to the success these shows can provide. We don’t know if he’s in the club or desperate to survive. The Left are oppressors on a 1984 scale. Like Nazism the sooner they are wiped off the face of the earth the better.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
2 years ago

… what we’re saying is you can’t use …
What struck me was the authoritarian Political Officer-speak – ‘we’ are saying ‘you can’t’ use. Not ‘I am saying you shouldn’t’ or ‘I don’t think you should’ etc. No, the Party political officer in the comedy business is saying “the Party is telling you you cannot use that language”.
In effect, the progressive Left has moralised huge swathes of communication, both within comedy and beyond it. Any utterance that involves a reference to a minority tends to be sliced from its surrounding context. The intentions or character of its owner are ignored. 
Reading Stock mentioning the underlying moral motivations is a joy. I think the moralising is to make the utterer responsible for the way the hearer chooses to react. This, then, gives a select group of ‘Political Officers’ the authority to decide who gets to speak with their own words and who doesn’t.

M. Jamieson
M. Jamieson
2 years ago

I’ve noticed the loss of the distinction between “you aren’t allowed” and “you shouldn’t” among progressives too.
And it works in a few ways. One, as you have pointed out, when they want to say something should not be done, they only seem to be able to say, it shouldn’t be allowed.
But also, when you see public discussions between progressives and what I’ll call conservatives (though some really aren’t especially,) when the latter make a statement that a certain behaviour is negative, the progressives seem to jump to the conclusion that the idea is to ban it. So I could say, divorce is a bad thing, it hurts children and society, and the progressive response is, “so you think divorce should be illegal?” It’s a place where the two groups can often end up talking past each other because they don’t realize that there is a disconnect and so don’t explore what it’s about.
I think the reason is that among progressives now, if something is not illegal or restricted, it’s seen as a freedom we have a right to, and therefore to critisize it on ethical or even pragmatic grounds is seen as an attempt to restrict freedom. The converse being that things which are actually morally unacceptable, from that view, have to be made illegal to be legitimately discouraged, which is why they seem so keen to ban things like speech they see as unethical.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 years ago

In NYC, we live right around the block STAND-UP NY, a comedy club so we tend to go regularly. On any given evening, about eight comedians do 5 to 8 minute sets. During our last visit, we were targeted by just about every comedian that night because of our apparent ‘elderly age’ – most people who attend these venues are under 40. One has to expect to be taunted in small clubs, however, it wasn’t the taunting that we cared about so much as the total lack of creativity that was on display – “oh you could be a model in a Viagra (impotence drug) commercial”, “oh your hair is so silver you match the wall paper”, etc. I get it – these clubs are places where these comedians try-out material. But if their performances were any indication, the future of comedy is dead; they were pathetic. Truly. Very. We long for the days of Don Rickles, Joan Rivers, Jerry Seinfeld – true masters of the craft.
Stateside, some fun right-wing satire nowadays is the ‘Babylon Bee’ which gets de-twittered regularly. This past week newspapers & blogs, heralded the ‘The Closing of Biden’s New Disinformation Czar for ‘Disinforming’ the Public” – a headline which could have been taken out of the Babylon but it was a fun moment when real-life-meets-art.

Last edited 2 years ago by Cathy Carron
Tim C
Tim C
2 years ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

I’m sorry you went through that. I was at a comedy club years ago and a ginger man in the front row was getting made fun of by all the comedians coming on. In the end his mate stepped in and said ‘enough, it’s been done, move on.’ I’m sorry no one did the same for you, I would have done if I was there.

Incidentally it made me realise, as no doubt you know as well, that we live in an era of double standards where there is acceptable bigotry. Old people, white people, old white people, males, white males, ginger people, anyone who I’d not on the left and and a band called Nickleback:)

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
2 years ago

Satire doesn’t need to be savage – but it needs to be fearless and it should be willing to poke fun at ALL sides of an issue. The biggest problem with the current state of British satire is that it has taken a single, congruant position.
Pick any topical satire/comedy show – be it HIGNFY, Mock the Week, The Now Show, Last Leg, any mainstream terrestrial channel comedy panel show, and try and find any that goes against the ‘liberal’ orthodoxy.
One or two individual comedians dare to kick against the traces – but only in stand-up and only once they’ve made an unassailable name for themselves, because they know it comes at the cost of a lucrative TV career. You can only build a successful stand-up career at the moment by establishing your name on such comedy panel programmes.
If any booker actually had the b a l l s to book a comedian who came out with a whole anti-EU schtick, or possibly mocked Biden or any aspect of identity politics or the current accommodations towards “woke” culture wars – they would guarantee firstly that that the comedian never got booked again for that show and secondly that the booker would be hauled in front of the commissioning editor the next morning for an interview without coffee.
Neither the booker, nor the guest – if they value their careers – dares to step outside the liberal consensus. To do so would be to get a flavour of what it would be like to be accused of heresy.
The strangest strange thing is that we all still refer to this woke orthodoxy as the “liberal consensus”. It is, surely, the very antithesis of “liberal” thought. What could possibly be more authoritarian than promoting a narrow worldview and punishing and shaming anyone who dares to think outside it? One of the favourite insults when castigating the right is “Orwellian”, do they honestly not see that the tag could be far better applied to this insistence we all adhere to the orthodoxy or face the consequences?
Geoff Norcott is always wheeled out as the comedian that disproves that all BBC comedy is leftist – but GN, as funny as he is, is essentially playing a character. The audience is invited to laugh at (not with) his observations because he is depicted as an unreconstructed Faragiste, a cartoon Brexit untermensch, a figure of fun because his opinions are SO outrageous (despite them actually being the majority view the last time we asked).
Even a man like Ian Hislop, who made a career out of having a dig at the establishment, has become – since the referendum – the sneering face of on-air remoanerism. Once a satirist has picked sides and only attacks the ‘Other’ he ceases to be in any way relevant. It has made HIGNFY unwatchable and Private Eye unreadable.
The satirists of the 1960s, 70s and 80s would hang their heads at the neo-puritanism, the homogeneity of today’s crop of comics. Actually none of those people would even get the gig nowadays. The head of BBC comedy commissioning proudly stated that the Python crew would never be hired today, because who wants more Oxbridge educated white men? Right on! Who cares if they’re funny, just don’t let them be well educated and white!
The current panel show regulars who infest our screens may tick all the right boxes, might fulfil all the right quotas, might make fun of all the approved targets and avoid making fun of all the ‘protected victim groups’, but some of these ‘comedians’ (to stretch the definition almost to breaking point) fail in one rather important area – THEY ARE NOT FUNNY. (Has anyone, honestly, ever actually belly-laughed at anything Nish Kumar or Holly Walsh have ever said? Or a hatful of – evidently forgettable – others)
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty out there in the either, plenty even on mainstream TV who are talented, plenty who are funny, but for all their supposed “edginess” there isn’t one who’d dare admit to an unapproved political viewpoint.

Last edited 2 years ago by Paddy Taylor
Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
2 years ago

“… cancellers on the Left tend to go for those they think are likely to be psychologically susceptible to their criticism. …” No, they go for anyone who challenges their tyranny by ridiculing it.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

I think a return of the song-and-dance man of old-time music-hall is necessary and vital.

One of its chroniclers, a W. MacQueen Pope, mentions “an entertainment of the People, for the People, by the People.”

I suppose people today are saturated with entertainment. In the old days, people had to grasp whatever scraps of light and comic relief they could get. With so much light entertainment today, a hoity-toity mindset to curb much of it means folk don’t see the dangers of their losing their habits of self-deprecating humour altogether. The progressive Left I imagine deem events worldwide too serious to ever imagine a song like Top Of The World by the Carpenters winning a pop music award ever again.

Maybe I am too cynical. But it’s hard to believe the movie Tootsie is forty years old this year. It came out at the height of the Iranian Revolution and the Cold War. On the back of the American embassy hostage crisis! How stark the difference in Enlightenment back then! Has society since then gone backwards?

If daring comics were to become song-and-dance performers, of vintage, and no less acerbic and sardonic and all that, then they could say, if all hell breaks loose, that the very progressive Left don’t do music, don’t do dance, and don’t do humour. If the progressive Left gets its way, especially in America, it’ll be a case of “That’s all, folks. That’s your lot!”
So ramping up all the varieties of music hall might just stir a love for good cheer and good sense.

Alex Shipley
Alex Shipley
2 years ago

We must shrug off the accusations of “transphobia” when we simply state the truth. Ricky Gervais gets called “hateful “ and “transphobic” for stating the basic fact that women don’t have penises. We can’t let the trolls bully us into silence or apology. Transwomen are not women, never were, never will be. Facts are not hate or “phobia”.

Last edited 2 years ago by Alex Shipley
Christopher Thompson
Christopher Thompson
2 years ago

Excellent article, but shouldn’t that be “strait-laced” rather than “straight laced”?

Michael Askew
Michael Askew
2 years ago

Either is possible
straitlaced or straight-laced
adjective: Excessively strict, rigid, old-fashioned, or prudish. ETYMOLOGY: From Middle English streit (narrow), from Old French estreit, from Latin strictus, past participle of stringere (to bind, draw tight) + laqueus (noose). Earliest documented use: 1630.

Julia H
Julia H
2 years ago

Kathleen, if you’re reading this, thank you for “even where the po-faced stop short of lamping the smart-arsed”. Deep joy.

John Wilkes
John Wilkes
2 years ago

Whilst those of us who tend to right of centre or true liberals may believe that Labour is wrong, they seem to believe that we (anyone who is not them) are evil (“vile Tory scum”).
Given this, of course we should be cancelled or worse, as our opinions are of no value and it is plain wrong for us to hold them.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
2 years ago

I’d love to go for a few pints with Kathleen Stock.

Mind, she’d still have to buy her round.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
2 years ago

Excerpt from Bk4 of my heroic couplet satire, The Wokeiad, by Richard Craven:-
……….
Behold the monstrous regiment of woke,
Science’s nemesis and but of joke.
First waddle past the squads of scowling smurfs,
With cardboard signs excoriating TERFs.
The sunlight bounces off each azure scalp
And dandruff glitters like a Switzer alp.
Above white knee socks, fat and dimpled thighs
Betray the sacrifice of untold pies.
Hotpants which emphasise the camel toe,
As Adam’s apple does the beard’s shadow. 1210
O’er each fraying belt tremulous blubber juts,
On porcine face the lipsticked gob tut-tuts.
The cheesecloth working shirt with rolled-up sleeves!
The animosity! The petty peeves!
With pond’rous tread they stamp upon the ground.
Buildings collapse, and light aircraft are downed.
The birds fall silent and the dead revive,
It isn’t bliss that dawn to be alive.

Lord Rochester
Lord Rochester
2 years ago

Absolutely nailed it. Best piece yet by Stock.

Michael Askew
Michael Askew
1 year ago

An excellent case, delivered with style and wit. Two questions though:
 But this is not just an understandable dislike of being laughed at by those on the same side as oneself. ” A healthy organisation wants its members to point out its absurdities, thus saving it from the ,mockery of the opposition.
“Cancellers from the Right”. Who are they and who are they cancelling? I ask merely for information.

Thom Rickarby
Thom Rickarby
1 year ago

To paraphrase a famous Jewish woman – If I can’t laugh, it’s not my revolution.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago

Poor old Russell Kane, confined to cliched jokes about old fashioned traditions and the Tories.
His lack of self awareness of the irony of his piousness with Lipman is his best joke for a long time.

0 0
0 0
2 years ago

SLN is certainly not conservative. Neither was Lenny Bruce.
Trump could not even figure out he was a joke.
Oh how ’bout funny guy Bore us Johnson.

Tim C
Tim C
2 years ago
Reply to  0 0

Hi there bot/troll! Thanks for dropping by:)

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
2 years ago
Reply to  Tim C

Thanks for dealing with the nuisance.

Thomas Hutcheson
Thomas Hutcheson
2 years ago

The general rule before asking “why X” is to establish “X.” This failed.